Skip to content

Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and Native Hawaiians (NH) Contributions to STEM

From breakthroughs in microbiology to advancements in acoustic science, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and Native Hawaiians (NH) have made numerous significant contributions to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. Despite facing systemic barriers and discrimination, their expertise and innovation continue to push us forward into the future. As part of our Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month series, we are highlighting a few of the incredible Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian innovators in the fields of STEM. Read on to learn more about them and find resources to learn more about their fields of study.

Dr. Michio Kaku – Theoretical Physics

Dr. Michio Kaku is a Japanese-American theoretical physicist who has contributed significantly to the field of string theory. Dr. Kaku was inspired by Albert Einstein’s quest for a “theory of everything.” He has written several books about his scientific theories and made numerous appearances on television and radio, educating the public about the latest scientific discoveries and advancements. Dr. Kaku is a professor at the City College of New York (CCNY).

Learn more about Dr. Michio Kaku and his inspiration.

Want to dive into string theory? Try Dr. Kaku’s book, Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe, or check out this blog geared towards kids.

Dr. Steven Chu – Physics

Dr. Steven Chu is a Chinese-American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. He and a colleague developed a method that uses lasers to cool and trap atoms so they can be studied. Dr. Chu later designed other ways to trap atoms. He holds 10 patents and has written 250 technical papers. In 2009 Dr. Chu became the first scientist appointed to an American Cabinet position, serving as the United States Secretary of Energy under President Barack Obama until 2013. His main focus was promoting clean energy and reducing carbon emissions. He also helped British Petroleum (BP) address the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

Learn more about Dr. Steven Chu and his contributions.

Learn more about clean energy in All Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future. For kids, give Solar Story: How One Community Lives alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant a try.

Dr. Kiana Frank – Oceanography

Dr. Kiana Frank is a Native Hawaiian oceanographer who has focused on the intersection of traditional ecological knowledge and modern science. She takes traditional concepts of land management and merges it with the science of microbiology. She has worked with indigenous communities to document changes in ocean ecosystems and develop sustainable management strategies. Dr. Kiana Frank is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is also a strong advocate for increasing Native Hawaiian representation in STEM fields.

Read Dr. Kiana Frank’s story.

Want to learn more about Hawaiian ecosystems and ecological sustainability? Watch one of Dr. Frank’s presentations. For a kid-friendly introduction to ecosystems and biodiversity with a Hawaiian example, try this video from Khan Academy.

Dr. Amar Bose – Electrical Engineering

Dr. Amar Bose was an Indian-American electrical engineer known for his contributions to acoustics and noise-canceling technology. He was a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for more than 45 years. He started tinkering with audio equipment as young as 13 years old. Later he founded Bose Corporation, a company that produces high-end audio equipment. Bose has produced specialized headphones for NFL coaches, professional pilots, and NASA astronauts.

Learn how Dr. Bose got started designing speakers.

Did you know acoustics is an important part of architectural design? Check out 99% Noise and BLDGBLOG: On Sound, mini podcasts from 99% Invisible, to learn more. Kids might enjoy this short introductory video about sound from PBS.

Dr. Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann – Microbiologist

Dr. Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann was a Filipino-American microbiologist who studied extremophiles, organisms that live in extreme conditions, in the deserts of Antarctica. She is most well-known for her discovery, along with her husband, of cryptoendoliths, special microorganisms who live dormant inside rocks in McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. These microorganisms are dormant during the harsh Antarctic winters, and thaw and photosynthesize in the summer. NASA has used her research as a basis for the search for life on Mars. In 2005, a peak in Antarctica was named for her.

Learn more about Dr. Ocampo-Friedmann’s discoveries.

Watch this TEDx Talk to see how Friedmann’s research relates to the search for life on Mars. Kids can try this easy STEM experiment based on Dr. Ocampo-Friedmann’s work.

These are just a few examples of the many contributions made by AAPI and NH individuals to STEM fields. The Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian community is incredibly diverse and we can only benefit from greater diversity in STEM.

Check out Kids Co.’s blog posts about other underrepresented communities in STEM/STEAM:

Arab Contributions to Astronomy

Women’s Contributions to STEAM

Black Innovators’ Contributions to STEM


Campers will enjoy all types of STEAM projects at Kids Co. Summer Camps

Double Bonus

Former Kids Co. kid, Ryan Eng is now a scientist – click here to read more about him.